Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Norman Rockwell: The Song of Bernadette

Auction result: $478,000 on November 18, 3005.

NORMAN ROCKWELL (American, 1894-1978)
The Song of Bernadette, 1944
Oil on Canvas
53in. x 28in.
Signed lower right: Norman Rockwell
Inscribed along lower edge in block letters: 'BERNADETTE' (overpainted by artist himself)
Original Movie Poster Illustration featuring Jennifer JonesLiterature: Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Laurie Norton Moffatt, p.82, fig. A607
Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, Arthur Guptill, p.132

Norman Rockwell's famous full-length portrait, The Song of Bernadette, was the most reproduced work of Rockwell's entire career. With its somber palette and astonishing realism, this work is stunning in its conception and execution, recalling seventeenth century genre paintings by such masters as Diego Velasquez and Jusepe de Ribera.

This original work was commissioned as the centerpiece of an unprecedented publicity campaign announcing a film of the same name by David O. Selznick and starring Jennifer Jones, which opened in December, 1943. 'Nothing else I have ever painted was reproduced in so many ways,' said Rockwell of this work.

Peyton Boswell Jr., editor of the Art Digest and author of Modern American Painting, provided many captions in the official press book for the 20th Century-Fox production of Franz Werfel's novel, The Song of Bernadette. In the book, Boswell chronicles the events in Rockwell's life immediately prior to his creation of this work:

'Early in 1943, Norman Rockwell completed his famous series of paintings, The Four Freedoms. Now his stature became international and he was the recipient of a global wave of acclaim. It was at this time that the artist conceived of a subject comparable in emotional appeal and perhaps even more challenging to his mature craftsmanship. He saw Jennifer Jones as the simple girl of Lourdes in The Song of Bernadette, and she was the inspiration for one of his finest canvases. Here, through the medium of one lone girl, glorious and exalted, could be created a painting to inspire people of all walks of life. This portrait of Bernadette will reach the hearts of all who see it - for in its subtle expressiveness, in every stroke of the brush - it conveys the essence of everything that was so movingly written into The Song of Bernadette.'

In this the most highly acclaimed film of 1945, Jennifer Jones starred in the title role of Bernadette Sobirous, the Maid of Lourdes, whose fame derived from her unshakable faith and courage. Film reviewers enthused: 'In the title role of the Maid of Lourdes, Jennifer Jones makes the most auspicious debut in Hollywood history. Here is a star -- and one who has flared into being with a brilliance that shines the mark of greatness. A bow to David O. Selznick for her discovery!' Indeed, the film won five Academy Awards, including 'Best Actress of the Year' for Miss Jones.

In the press book for the film, the image is reproduced over fifty times, including one with a photograph of the artist at work at his easel. In Arthur Guptill's monograph, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, which features this work on page 132, Rockwell commented, 'Nothing else I ever painted was reproduced in so many ways. In addition to its being run in magazines, newspapers, and on theatre posters, I was told that it covered the entire wall of one eight-story building.' In an essay for the Norman Rockwell Museum's 1999 show of Rockwell movie poster art, the author noted: 'In an unusually ambitious 20th Century Fox publicity campaign, advertising director Charles Schlaifer decided to use a 150-foot high display of Rockwell's illustration for The Song of Bernadette above a Broadway theater marquee. According to Schlaifer, 'It absolutely sold the picture' and was one of the most effective pieces ever created for a motion picture.

Laurie Norton Moffatt's comprehensive Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue reproduces the work on page 483, as entry A607, and notes that the painting's location was unknown for a number of years. It was later discovered in the private collection of the film's producer, William Perlberg (1900-1968). Ownership subsequently passed to the Mount Saint Mary's Academy in Los Angeles; thence, to the present owner.

Included in this lot is the large 32-page press book for the film, and a copy of Norman Rockwell, Illustrator.

Don sez: When I described this stunning Norman Rockwell movie poster painting from the forties, I was struck by how much it reminded me of the Diego Velasquez masterworks I used to study at the Meadows Museum in SMU and so I worked that into my description. I used to vist the Velasquez paintings frequently when I was earning my BFA and MFA degrees in 1974-81. Anyway, the heartfelt "magic realism" of this Rockwell painting, stripped of NR's usual lighthearted Americana, was that good, IMHO.

No comments:

Post a Comment